Friday, July 29, 2005
Top 10 things a drummer should know
By request -- and I'm not mentioning names -- I've put together a Top 10 Things Every Drummer Should Know But Most Don't list. (The only real answer here is "read music," but that's not very funny so let's just leave that issue in the closet, right next to those library books you never returned in fifth grade).
This is nothing like the Top 10 Most Amazing Things Ever Performed By Musicians list I once put together for my college newspaper (No. 1 was a jazz trumpeter who did not take the cigarette out of his mouth to play). It will have nothing in common with the Top 10 Drummer Jokes of All-Time (No. 1: How can you tell when the drum riser is level? Drool comes out of both sides of the drummer's mouth.). To be honest, I'm really breaking new ground here. Most drummers don't know anything of value, and I'm pretty much the first drummer brave enough to admit this:
10. A pair of plyers is not the ideal tool with which to tune a drum. It can actually destroy your tension rods, and you are likely to destroy your bearing edges with uneven tuning over time. Introduce yourself to a drum key. Then again, we saw you feeling satisfied when you successfully used a saw blade as a hammer, so we're not really surprised. The cuts on your hand most certainly did not add a "cool factor," and the blood splattered on the wall cannot be considered "modern art."
9. Duct tape and pillows are for amateurs. Let me get this straight: You just plunked down $2,000 for a four-piece six-ply maple kit with 2.3mm solid steel rims. The shells are round and made of a highly warm, resonant wood preferred by professionals all around the world. You put tight resonant fiber heads over the top to make this soft wood vibrate, creating a "drum-like" sound when you strike it, sending chills down the spine of every sound engineer because his levels are in perfect harmony (for once in his life). You then apply 40 strips of duct tape and throw your mom's toss pillow in the bass drum, so you can sound just like that garage drummer with the $500 kit?
8. Swiss-cheese "vented" snares are for rich, SoCal punks. Really, there is nothing dynamically special about a vented snare. You're just paying twice the going rate of a good solid wood or titanium shell for someone to punch holes in your otherwise reasonably priced Keller shell. The only people who think there's something special about these snares are tone deaf and clueless.
7. Saran Wrap is ideal when you want a break from the studio. After 60 takes on the same song, it's time for some refreshment. When the producer/Nazi demands another take, whip out the Saran Wrap and crinkle it into the mic. It will send the sound engineer into spasms as his levels pique and he's clueless why. He'll spend three days taking the board apart piece by piece. Meanwhile, you and your bandmates can go out and enjoy the $1.50 left over from the $1 million signing bonus, most of which went right back to the studio to pay for studio time, the sound engineer, and marketing for your lame radio-friendly CD with which you are quickly becoming embarrassed to have your name associated because all your Cobain-inspired songs were ditched and replaced with Diane Warren tunes.
6. The drum shop clerk is not a drumming expert, no matter how much he tells you he is. His job is to get you to buy stuff you don't need. You wouldn't go to Staples and ask a clerk for help with your English homework, would you?
5. X drummer in Y "flavor of the week" band is not the "greatest drummer of all time." You're just 13, have never worked a day in your life, and you still think it's safe to be friends with guitarists. The greatest drummer of all time couldn't get a gig because he didn't know when to turn off the "stuff" and just keep time. The guy who actually holds the title is Robbie Miller. He's 45 and works the graveyard shift at the 7-11 down the street from your house. He's the guy with the weird eyes who's always listening to that brain-cramping jazz-fusion music when you go in to get your Slurpee. If you guess the name of the drummer he's listening to (Tony Williams), I promise he will give you your Slurpee for free. He still can't get a gig, but he will kick your butt in a drum-o-meter contest.
4. Lots of notes impress other drummers. Lots of notes won't get you the gig. Just take it from Robbie Miller, who once auditioned for the Journey gig (they were cool once -- promise) when Steve Smith left. The bandmates thought he was great, told him he sounded just like Tony Williams. Then they gave the gig to the guy who they thought sounded like Ringo, because they actually wanted to sell records.
3. Super Glue is not a medically sound way to repair bloody callouses. I'm pretty sure a doctor told me this once. I can't remember, though. The only thing I can recall from the late 80s and the early 90s is I always had a tube of Super Glue around.
2. Stick twirling is not a drum rudiment. Learning this lesson basically shattered the fantasies of my entire childhood. It was the first thing I wanted to learn from my instructor. He suggested I go to one of these. Or just go here.
1. Less is more, more or less. This is really a drummer's paradox, because to really play like a minimalist drumming master -- master of dynamics, tone, musicianship, and taste -- you first have to study and train like you're going to be the next Buddy Rich. It's all about control, but to be in real control -- four limbs playing independently of each other -- you have to have stretched yourself to absurd lengths. Don't get it? It's OK. We don't need any more working drummers in this business, anyway.
If you still have questions, I suggest heading over to the Drummer Cafe and talking to Bart Elliot. He will wisely guide you out of professional music and into a much saner career choice.